The Neuchâtel Jura region
La Chaux-de-Fonds, Val-de-Ruz, Val-de-Travers
The Neuchâtel Jura is wonderfully diverse in terms of its countryside, history and culture. La-Chaux-de-Fonds, city of watches; Val-de-Travers, home of the “green fairy” (absinthe); and Val-de-Ruz, the oasis of peace – they all offer untold treasures. And the stunningly beautiful scenery is a feast for the eyes. The countryside is shaped by pine forests, rugged limestone formations, Jura hills, ravines and old Alpine farmhouses. The beautiful nature around the region’s rivers and lakes, as well as a wonderful nature reserve, tempt visitors to explore and enjoy. The Creux du Van, a naturally formed rock arena with 160-metre-high cliff walls, impressively encloses a kilometre-long valley bottom. La Chaux-de-Fonds, Romandy’s third-largest city, is regarded as the birthplace of watchmaking and offers a comprehensive range of cultural activities the whole year round. Together with Le Locle, the city has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2009.
La Brévine – the Siberia of Switzerland
The wild region of La Brévine is just the right thing for adventurers who want to experience the ‘feel of Siberia’ without having to travel quite that far. Ever since a record temperature of minus 41.8 degrees Celsius was recorded there in 1987, the valley has been famous for its icy-cold temperatures. It is with good reason that the region is described as the Siberia of Switzerland. The farming village of La Brévine is situated in an upland valley of the Neuchâtel Jura at around 1,000 metres above sea level. Because the valley is well-enclosed on all sides, a reservoir of cold air is able to build up in winter. When the sky is clear and the wind still, the cold air gathers at the bottom of the valley on extremely cold days and does not disperse. Temperatures routinely drop to minus 30 degrees Celsius. The previous Swiss sub-zero temperature record was set on 12 January 1987, with a temperature of minus 41.8 degrees Celsius.
At the annual cold festival, the people of La Brévine celebrate winter with music, market stalls, regional specialities and much more. On 3 February 2018, the time will once more have arrived. Those who have experienced the adventure of Siberia in Switzerland can collect their ice certificate from one of the restaurants in the valley.
Three kilometres to the west of La Brévine lies the picturesque Lac des Taillères, which looks particularly beautiful during the winter season. When the lake is completely frozen over, it can be used for ice-skating. The surrounding area offers numerous opportunities for snowshoe walking, cross-country skiing, or a romantic stroll in the snow. And you can always warm yourself up with a hot chocolate or delicious crepe at an Alpine inn. Welcome to winter!
Great views of La Chaux-de-Fonds
Swiss bells for Olympia
The Olympic Games feature not only Swiss athletes but also Swiss craftsmanship. For 30 years now, the bells which ring in the last lap have been founded in La Chaux-de-Fonds.
Since 1980, the Blondeau foundry in the canton of Neuchâtel’s La Chaux-de-Fonds has been manufacturing bells for the Olympic Games. During numerous competitions, such as track and field events or cycling, the bells are used to ring in the final lap. The watch manufacturer and official timekeeper at the 2016 Olympic Games ordered 21 bells for the games in Rio de Janeiro. The Blondeau bell foundry was established as a small family company in the 1830s by immigrants from Piedmont. Serge Huguenin, the current proprietor, took over the business from his father-in-law in 1991. He now only works a few hours a week at the workshop to produce bells for tourist shops or to fill orders. The business is no longer large enough to provide a living. Yet the craft of bellmaking has hardly changed in the more than 1,000 years it has existed. The bells are still manufactured by hand. To do so, bronze is heated to 1,200 degrees and melted, before being poured into a mould. This gives each bell a different shape, making it one of a kind.
La fée verte – the myth of the green fairy
Green fairy is the name of the absinthe that was very popular in Francophone Europe in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. In this part of the world, the high-proof drink is still called la fée verte.
Painters such as Vincent van Gogh and Eduard Manet loved the green fairy, as did writers such as Oscar Wilde and Charles Baudelaire. Originally manufactured in the eighteenth century in Neuchâtel’s Val-de-Travers as a tonic, absinthe was soon being drunk in many places. After this boom, the drink with the legendary reputation was widely banned. It was suspected that this vermouth brandy contained a substance with seemingly hallucinogenic properties – wrongly, as we now know. The green fairy was originally produced with vermouth, aniseed, fennel and a variety of other herbs, depending on the recipe. Many absinthe types are green in hue. This is where the name la fée verte derives from. And many a person is said to have seen the green fairy after imbibing the mysteriously shimmering drink.
The cityscape of La Chaux-de-Fonds / Le Locle: UNESCO World Heritage
The cities of La Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle, both home to the watchmaking industry, have been on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 2009. The two cities feature a perfect symbiosis of urban cityscape and industry.
The Neuchâtel Jura is regarded as the birthplace of the watchmaker’s craft. At the end of the nineteenth century, the two manufacturing cities of La Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle experienced a golden age in the watch industry and engineering. This also influenced the cities’ urban development: apartments and workshops were located next to one another in the same buildings. The large windows of the workshops are testimony to the key importance of daylight to the craftsmen at their workbenches. The close combination of production site and dwelling shows that even in those days, both the economic performance and quality of life of the workers were important. At the turn of the century, the buildings became specialised. Factories were built, which have continued to develop and grow to this day. By 1914, 55% of global watch production took place in La Chaux-de-Fonds. This industrial culture was continued in service to tradition and innovation. Thanks to the remarkably authentic preservation and maintenance of the cityscape, La Chaux-de-Fonds / Le Locle Watchmaking Town Planning is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site.